These and Those

Musings from Students of the Pardes Institute of Jewish Studies in Jerusalem

(Me)inyan Surprise

Posted on February 12, 2013 by David Bogomolny

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Over the course of the past several years, I’ve come to learn that it’s not entirely clear whether praying in a minyan is halakhically required or not. Granted, most sources agree that praying in a minyan is at least encouraged & laudable… but ultimately, my halakhic obligation is to pray the correct services (morning, afternoon, evening) at the correct times.

Outside of Pardes, I very often pray alone – even on Shabbat. I’m not saying this is ideal, and while Nachmanides wrote in ‘Wars of the Lord’ that the obligation to hold a public Torah reading is a communal obligation rather than a personal one (so no single Jew is obligated to hear the reading of the Torah), I still feel like I’m missing out by not being part of a Shabbat minyan.

Zvi Hirschfield recently wondered at me regularly missing out on the shul experience. The rhythm of Shabbat, he said, revolves around the synagogue. And to a large extent, I agree with him. I would like to be part of a shul going community, and attend services on Shabbat instead of praying in my apartment… And in the long run, I cannot fathom raising a family that’s disconnected from a shul going community.

But the problem is that I feel disconnected. Outside of Pardes, I haven’t found many communities that I feel comfortable in. In most places, I either don’t like the format or style of the prayers (too much singing, for example, or not enough), or I feel socially or demographically like an outsider. When I do go to shul, I usually feel out of place, and therefore my motivation to pray with a minyan (even on Shabbat) is low… there are a few communities I’ve experienced that have felt comfortable, but they are not within walking distance of my home… Well, maybe.

See, the surprising thing is that I went to the Kotel for Saturday morning services last Shabbat, and I liked it.

I only went because a friend was staying with us, and he requested that we pray at the Kotel… I accommodated him, but never expected to enjoy myself. We arrived at eight in the morning, and a man near the mechitza waved us over to join the minyan that he was organizing. It was a Sephardi minyan, which is not my nusach, but the minyan was small – not more than fifteen men, I think – and they were friendly. They assigned my friend the role of magbiah, and assigned me an Aliyah. Then some of them introduced themselves to us, invited us to kiddush, and informed us that they meet every week for Shabbat.

I’m not a big fan of the Kotel (I’m not against praying there, but I’m not particularly excited about it either), but praying outside on a warm, sunny morning on Shabbat with a small, friendly minyan was really, surprisingly pleasant… and I now find myself wanting to go back… for the first time in a very, uncomfortably long time.